Saturday, June 22, 2024

Emilia Romagna GP: Charles Leclerc tops first Imola practice for Ferrari as Max Verstappen struggles

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Charles Leclerc topped first practice at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix as Ferrari’s significantly upgraded car impressed at Imola.

Leclerc finished just over a tenth of a second clear of George Russell, who also delivered promising pace in his upgraded Mercedes.

Carlos Sainz was marginally behind Russell to take third in the other Ferrari, but world championship leader Max Verstappen could only manage fifth behind his Red Bull team-mate Sergio Perez.

In perhaps the most highly-anticipated Formula 1 practice session of the season so far with Red Bull, Ferrari and Mercedes all bringing new parts, Leclerc was able to thrill the Tifosi by providing a performance that suggests Verstappen will continue to be challenged throughout the weekend.

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Lewis Hamilton narrowly avoided a crash after his Mercedes car went spinning during FP1 at Imola

The Dutchman, who holds a 33-point world championship lead as he chases a fourth successive drivers’ title, grew increasingly frustrated as he went off track twice when attempting flying laps in the closing stages of the session.

After claiming his maiden F1 victory two weeks ago as McLaren rolled out their own major upgrade package in Miami, Lando Norris was eighth ahead of team-mate Oscar Piastri.

Yuki Tsunoda took an encouraging sixth for RB, with Lewis Hamilton seventh after going off track several times as he struggled with the handling of his Mercedes.

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Alex Albon brings out an early red flag during FP1 at Imola after his Williams appeared to lose power

The session was paused for just over five minutes when Alex Albon was forced to stop on track after a technical failure on his Williams.

British teenager Oliver Bearman was 15th for Haas as he made the first of six practice appearances scheduled for this season, as he seeks to build on an impressive debut when deputising for Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz in Saudi Arabia in March.

Ferrari display ramps up pressure on Red Bull

Ferrari team principal Fred Vasseur has repeatedly preached that the Italian squad must apply pressure to a Red Bull team that have had things all their own way since midway through the 2022 season.

The merits of that approach appeared to be evident in Friday’s opening session as Verstappen, after being beaten by Norris in Miami, grew increasingly frustrated at the imperfect handling of his car.

Despite a return to F1’s traditional format of three practice sessions before Saturday’s qualifying after two successive Sprint weekends, the Dutchman did not appear to be in patient mood as he complained of a lack of a grip.

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Sky Sports’ Ted Kravitz talks through the seven aero-upgrades on Ferrari’s car ahead of the Emilia Romagna GP

Somewhat surprisingly, he continued to chase one-lap pace in the closing stages of the session while others focused on longer runs, but came up short due to a pair of errors.

First he ran through the grass after missing the chicane at Variante Alta, then, in the dying seconds, he set the fastest first sector before losing control once more and going into the gravel at Acque Minerali.

While gusts of wind created challenging conditions for all drivers, with Hamilton among those to struggle as he narrowly avoided the barrier after a spin, Ferrari enjoyed a relatively serene start to the weekend.

Driving an SF-24 which had seven new parts, all focused on improving aerodynamic performance, both Leclerc and Sainz were quickly on the pace as they started on the hard tyre before switching to soft.

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British teenager Oliver Bearman caused a red flag after hitting the wall in F2 practice one, just hours before he drove for Haas in F1 first practice at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix

Leclerc’s 1:16.990 was enough to seal top spot, but Mercedes, who brought the second half of a package they began to introduce in Miami, will hope they can build on the strong pace shown by Russell.

Despite their impressive display in Miami, McLaren appeared focused on optimising the performance of their heavily updated MCL38, as Norris began the session with an aero-rake on his car.

Ultimately, Verstappen has often cut a frustrated figure on a Friday before blowing the field away on a Saturday and Sunday, but a gradual tightening of the pack suggests this occasion could be different.

Ferrari’s strong start will only increase excitement that the sport could be set for a sustained period of competitiveness at the front of the grid that has been lacking for the last two years.

Emilia Romagna GP Practice One Timesheet

Driver Team Time
1) Charles Leclerc Ferrari 1:16.990
2) George Russell Mercedes +0.104
3) Carlos Sainz Ferrari +0.130
4) Sergio Perez Red Bull +0.243
5) Max Verstappen Red Bull +0.250
6) Yuki Tsunoda RB +0.398
7) Lewis Hamilton Mercedes +0.418
8) Lando Norris McLaren +0.612
9) Oscar Piastri McLaren +0.817
10) Fernando Alonso Aston Martin +0.877
11) Pierre Gasly Alpine +0.915
12) Lance Stroll Aston Martin +1.082
13) Daniel Ricciardo RB +1.152
14) Esteban Ocon Alpine +1.622
15) Oliver Bearman Haas +1.677
16) Valtteri Bottas Sauber +1.837
17) Zhou Guanyu Sauber +2.139
18) Logan Sargeant Williams +2.911
19) Alex Albon Williams +3.060
20) Nico Hulkenberg Haas +4.069

Sky Sports F1’s live Emilia Romagna GP schedule

Friday May 17
2pm: F3 Qualifying
2:55pm: F2 Qualifying
3:45pm: Emilia Romagna GP Practice Two (session starts at 4pm)
5:30pm: The F1 Show

Saturday May 18
9am: F3 Sprint
11:15am: Emilia Romagna GP Practice Three (session starts at 11.30am)
1.10pm: F2 Sprint
2.10pm: Emilia Romagna GP Qualifying build-up
3pm: Emilia Romagna GP Qualifying
5pm: Ted’s Qualifying Notebook
5.30pm: Indy 500 Qualifying

F1 visits Europe for the first time in 2024 with the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix in Imola

Sunday May 19
7.30am: F3 Feature Race
9am: F2 Feature Race
12:30pm: Grand Prix Sunday: Emilia Romagna GP build-up
4pm: Chequered Flag: Emilia Romagna GP reaction
5pm: Ted’s Notebook
8pm: Indy 500 Qualifying

Formula 1 heads to Europe as Imola returns to the calendar following last year’s cancelled race. Watch the Emilia Romagna GP this weekend, with Sunday’s race at 2pm. Stream every F1 race and more with a NOW Sports Month Membership – No contract, cancel anytime

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